What I thought was skim ice is a bit thicker and it takes almost all of my weight to break it into large chunks so that I can make it to the main part of Big Branch. This summer was a wash for trips here with Eden Mill – I only ran two out of a half dozen planned - due to cloudy water conditions. I heard a rumor that it was the wettest summer since the civil war, and I believe it. It poured before every tour which caused a murky river and cancelled trips.
The water today is much different than the muddy river I remember from July and it runs clear and freezing cold. I slip into Big Branch as soon as I clear the ice chunks. The frigid water stings my lips and my teeth start to hurt from the cold. The water is about as clear as I have ever seen it here, and I start a slow crawl upstream. The river is rearranged again and the large downstream hole is gone. Beavers are starting to dam the river here and the main channel has been split in 2. All the rain and heavy flows moved the structuring logs that are embedded in the bottom sand which results in a very different stream scape.
I belly hurdle over the first log that is now embedded in the bottom and float upstream. There were two deep holes here. But now the depth is more uniform and I realize I am swimming in a newly formed beaver pond. Evidence of the aquatic mammals is abundant and the light greenish white bark stripped chews are piled on the bottom near the bank.
Schools of tiny fish huddle in the lee of logs ad look like small clouds. A large school of common shiner looks hovers over the bottom like a fog. The fish stay together as one mass and they slowly move away from me at first, but then come towards me once they get used to my presence. I notice there are a few fall fish and a rosy sided dace or two mixed in.
I head into the big pool that is framed by a new beaver dam on the downstream side. The bottom 12 feet below is out of sight, or just barely visible most of the time. Today it feels like there is nothing between me and the leaves, logs and stumps below. My hands are numb. I can’t feel my feet and I start to shiver. It’s time to leave. Last year it was new years before this stream got ice. It’s not even Thanksgiving and we have frigid conditions already. The beaver are more active this winter than I have ever seen them here. It should be an interesting winter watching how Big Branch changes in response to both.